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Purple Revolution: Farmers turning to Lavender due to High Demand in Market

Farmers in Jammu and Kashmir are converting from maize to essential oils in response to climate change.

Chintu Das
Lavender Cultivation
Lavender Cultivation

The field is glowing with fragrant purple as the women in flowing shalwar kameez arrive with scythes to collect the lavender. More than 200 farmers have switched from maize to lavender cultivation in the 30-odd villages on the hilly slopes of Jammu's Doda district, igniting a "purple revolution" in the area.

Bharat Bhushan, a 43-year-old farmer from Lehrote, received a prestigious award for creative farming from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute this year, one of many organizations around the world searching for ways to cope with the climate crisis and its disastrous effects on agriculture. Lavender is a drought-resistant crop that grows well in poor soil and requires little water.

“I began lavender farming in 2010, hesitantly, as an experiment thanks to the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine [IIIM] Jammu's encouragement,” says Bhushan. “It's simple to expand and doesn't take much water. As compost, I just used cow dung.” He was receiving four times as much as he had been cultivating maize in just two years.

“After seeing my progress, several others followed suit, and this profession now employs over 500 farmers in this region who are members of self-help organizations. In addition, I've developed two nurseries for the propagation of lavender saplings. Bhushan, who has also mounted machinery to extract oil from lavender flowers, says the village has become a lavender producing and distillation centre. “The best thing about growing lavender is that many women in villages who are not permitted to work outside the home have been empowered to plant lavender around their homes because it is lucrative, and this has allowed them to become self-sufficient,” he says.

“Lavender oil is in high demand in India, and we market refined oil directly to industrial customers in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. We also sell dried lavender for potpourri, sachets, and floral arrangements, as well as hydrosol, which is made from the flowers after distillation and used to produce soaps and air fresheners.”

Bhushan was influenced by a teleconference with India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which initiated the Aroma Mission in 2016, urging farmers whose livelihoods had been impacted by the climate emergency to grow lavender, rosemary, and lemongrass, as well as medicinal plants like ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng or Wuxi ginseng. It provides cuttings, assists in the establishment of distillation units for groups of 50 producers, checks the consistency of the crude, and assists in the identification of buyers.

“Lavender is a European crop that was planted by the CSIR Aroma Mission in the districts of Doda, Kishtwar, and Rajouri in the temperate regions of this state,” says Sumeet Gairola, senior scientist at the institute. “In 2017, five labs were established across India with the goal of assisting farmers in growing 20 medicinal and aromatic crops across 6,000 hectares [15,000 acres] across the country.”

Farmers like lavender because of its easy-to-grow qualities, he notes. “The production from lavender farming is much higher than that from maize farming. A hectare of land will produce 30 to 45 litres of lavender oil, which is highly sought after as an essential aromatic oil.”

Several farmers in Kashmir are beginning to develop the crop, which is mostly planted alongside apple orchards. The Aroma Mission was recently expanded by the CSIR, with farmers from other northern states such as Uttarakhand, Nagaland, and Assam attending the launch, indicating that the purple blooms may soon become a popular sight across India.

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